Thousands rally against corruption in S. Africa
Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of South Africa to march against corruption. There is growing frustration over the government’s involvement in graft scandals and stubborn inequality in society at large.
Organizers hope the marches will evolve into a broad civic movement campaigning against corruption in the government and public services.
DW has been talking to Phillip de Wet, associate editor at the South African weekly Mail & Guardian.
DW: What can be expected to emerge from these marches?
It’s hard to imagine what will come from these protest marches.What we did see on the streets of Johannesburg and other cities was a very bipartisan showing by trade unionists, civil society and others concerned about corruption. The numbers weren’t that impressive but the unity they showed was impressive. But the demands they have delivered to the government – some of them are unimplementable. Some of them are vague and broad and say ‘we want an end to corruption in health care’ – nothing really that the government can implement. On the other hand there are other demands that are quite simple to implement – for example – that all civil servants must wear name tags at all times. But I’m not sure that that in itself will change corruption in South Africa.
The turnout was less than the organizers expected. What could have prevented people from turning out in large numbers?
Well, there were some technical problems. The march was originally supposed to have taken place in August and there was quite a lot of momentum at the time. But because of organizational difficulties the organizers postponed it twice and that momentum got lost over time. Perhaps a bigger factor, though, was that there wasn’t that much money behind the protests. There was no single organization that put in the cash that was necessary for buses and transport to get people to the various marches. Quite crucially, there was a failure to provide strike certificates for unions to take part in these protests. If they had issued the strike certificates in time, it would have meant some workers would have been on a protected strike, had they not been at work. The threat of disciplinary action by employers may have had quite a large impact on the numbers.
The Congress of South Trade Unions, COSATU, urged its members not to support the march. It threatened to take action against affiliate members who took part in it. Did you see any COSATU members taking part or did they heed the call?
It does seem that COSATU members generally heeded the call. We did not see people who were identifying themselves as COSATU members. If they were there, they were quite quiet about it.
Do we expect these marches to continue?
We are expecting protest action to continue. Two weeks from today (30.09.2015) there is already a protest by unions scheduled. Particularly, NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) will have certification for a strike. Members will be protected. So they are being expected to be out on the streets of Pretoria – among other cities – in two weeks time.
What can be done to eliminate corruption in government institutions?
Amongst the organizers of this kind of action, there is an unspoken agreement that the ballot box is very important here, not necessarily to unseat the African National Congress from government, but to send it a clear message that it must change its ways. We have local government elections coming up next year. So there is a lot of campaigning around that and a lot of talk about how citizens must make themselves felt at the ballot box in local government elections next year in order to apply pressure on the ruling party.
Philipp Dewet is associate editor at the South African weekly Mail & Guardian
Interview: Jane Ayeko